This article was first published as a podcast for the Velocast and is republished here with permission. To login or subscribe to the Velocast go to http://velocast.cc
The Giro in Belfast was supposed to feel like the race had come to my home for the day, my country. But I don’t know Belfast. Was the route of Stage One of the Giro the best they could have come up with for the day’s racing?
I don’t know.
It looked great and the crowds were undeniably big. But I don’t know the streets, I don’t know the alternative routes.
The Giro d’Italia in Belfast is one thing, but the Giro d’Italia in Dublin is quite another. This is my home. This is my town. I know the roads, the buildings, the way the wind usually blows, the tram tracks, the bus lanes, the smell, the feel.
I arrive into Busarus station in Dublin at midday and start walking. The garda síochana are out and about and hundreds of volunteers and workers are busy sorting out crash barriers and advertising hoards. The one kilometre to go banner for Stage Three is just before the riders turn in away from the quays in the centre of Dublin. I decide to walk the final kilometre in towards the finish.
The banner itself has yet to be erected as guys in high-vis vests struggle to deal with the strong wind that’s picked up. I overhear in a thick accent “Are you in charge here, or am I in fucking charge. Fuck off”. They arguing continues and so do I, down along to Westland Row.
To the riders left as they cross over Pearse Street is a building called Goldsmith Hall. At the sight of it, my subconscious memory lurches into action and the hangover that I’ve been avoiding all morning gives my brain an unwelcome squeeze. It was here, as students, that we would pick up our tickets for the Trinity College Ball every April. A curious mix of a black tie dress code and a muck-strewn music festival. Mr. Hangover looks at me with disdain as he also remembers what those days were like, ‘call this a hangover?’ he says to me.
I recall giddily burying naggins of vodka in the college grounds to the riders’ right. A rule was in place that we weren’t allowed bring any drink on to the premises on the night of the ball. To circumvent this nonsensical obstruction, we would bury our liquid gold in a hedge the day before. Quite the operation ensued on the night involving a sophisticated system of lookout men. But every year, we succeeded and the burden on our wallets would ease, as we could avoid the queues for the bar and busy ourselves burdening our livers.
But there are no black tie suits in town today. The men are in suits of lycra and it is pink gold that they’re after.
There was an educational aspect to my time in Trinity College too of course, but my mind wanders and I find myself drawing tenuous parallels between the sport of cycling and the famous old university before me. Both were established in a bygone century and both have had their share of widely known characters make their mark. For every Fausto Coppi there’s an Oscar Wilde, for an Eddy Merckx, there’s a Samuel Beckett.
But somewhere along the way, the university became exploitative. The students became of lesser importance, a necessary expense to keep the machine ticking over. The new very important people became the tourists who arrive in their droves to visit the Book of Kells and the Long Room library. It’s the tourists that pay the bills now and provide the university with its new raison d’etre. I look back to my left over towards Goldsmith Hall and I see crash barriers covered in ads for soft drinks, hire cars and television broadcasters, I think to myself maybe these parallels are actually not so tenuous and I continue on up Westland Row.
I negotiate the chicane which arrives with less than 300 metres to go till the finish. I imagine that the riders will find it a lot trickier to get through it at 60 kilometres per hour than I found it travelling it at a crawler’s pace. I see the finish line for the first time and the voice of commentator Anthony McCrossan arrives in my ears, accompanied by some unforgiving beat driven music. My headache begins to thump a little faster as I curse the wholly unnecessary Jaeger bomb downed in the small hours of this morning.
I’m ushered across the road by the carabineiri at the designated crossing point, I gesticulate in Italian, he translates my arm movements and accedes to my request to take a photo of the finishing straight. I tweet the photo. Immediately someone tweets back ‘blimey, there’s potholes on the run in toward the finish?’ I look back at the road that I’ve just crossed, and there they are, I hadn’t even noticed them. Is this because of the muzzy head on me? Or having spent so much time living in this pothole-strewn country that I’ve developed a mental filter shielding me from them?
I recall when the 1998 Tour de France was due to visit Dublin. Part of its route included Templeville Road and Greentrees Road in Templeogue, a stone’s throw from my bedroom window. I remember roadworks taking over for weeks beforehand. All the roads of the route were ripped up and replaced in anticipation of the Grand Tour’s arrival.
But that was the start of the good years. The Celtic Tiger was just beginning to growl and money was more forthcoming. That tiger growls no longer, it doesn’t even purr. He’s been dead for years, buried and rotting.
The memory of Daniel Martin coming a cropper on a misplaced manhole are alarmingly fresh and I take one more look at the road on the finishing straight and I think to myself ‘well that’s another disaster waiting to happen’.
I get settled in under a big screen near the finish line and watch the action unfold 40 kilometres away, as the peloton wends its way through North County Dublin. I ponder the route I’ve just walked and begin to wonder whether my headache is more complicated than a product of alcohol, whether it’s a compound of the self inflicted variety along with something else. There’s a nagging feeling that we’ve missed a trick here with this stage route.
I see a tweet from a journalist fielding the suggestion there’s been a go-slow declared in the bunch because the roads are so shite. Whether the tweet is accurate or not, it highlights the fact that the stage has been rather non-descript. The scenery? Yeah, great, Ireland will never let you down in that department. But the racing? It’s been as vanilla as it gets with a Grand Tour stage. Maybe this is why I feel I the need for a meal consisting of water and Solpadene.
Ireland has been granted the privilege of hosting one of the biggest races in the world, but what did we do with it?
Dublin is a city divided in two by the river Liffey. There’s the north side and the south side. But these are not just geographical locations, they are two different races of people. And being from one side of the river, I can confirm, when it comes to Dublin City, we’re all just a little bit racist towards each other.
There’s a great advertisement on the railway bridge which crosses the Liffey just beside the point where the riders cross the river on the way to the finish line in Merrion Square. Like all great ads in Dublin, it’s an ad for drink, this one is for Bulmers cider. The ad reads, ‘Are you a North Cider or a South Cider?’
The Giro route evidently, unlike the rest of us has decided to be both. As my clenching headache continues, I conclude that its partially attributable to an underlying resentment that although the final kilometre is on the south side, the entire rest of the stage is not.
But apart from my childish jealousy about the latitude of the route, it’s the profile of it that is the real disappointment. Ireland has nothing comparable to an Alpe, a Pyrenee or a Dolomite, but there are plenty of hills. They’re everywhere. The route designers appear to have actively avoided them and chosen the path of least resistance from point Armagh to point Dublin.
Negotiating the appearance of the Giro on this fair isle must have been hard work and I, like the rest of the people standing around on Merrion Square, are grateful for this. But what it has meant for the Giro and for the riders is an extra day tacked on to the Grand Tour. Ironically, cyclists don’t like travelling, an air transfer during a Grand Tour is not ideal. At 112km, the first stage back in Italy is the shortest of the race and also has a bland, undulation-free profile.
I can’t help but think that the Irish Giro delegation were asked to lay down on the idea of creating tricky stages. ‘You can have the Giro, but we want lots of money and a guarantee that the stages will be easy. Physically destroying the riders is our job, and we’ll do it on our turf!’
There’s also the location of the finish line itself. An end to the stage on O’ Connell Sreet would surely have been more grand and more spectacular, just like the Tour de France in 1998. But then I remember my own logic, and decide that it’s all a case of finances. Shutting down O’ Connell street for the day poses significantly more financial and logistical difficulties.
I sigh and think what might have been before returning my attention to the big screen. 10Km to go. It’s raining again, but nobody cares. We’re used to it by now.
The race cavalcade begins to arrive as Anthony McCrossan gets louder, the music gets faster and my headache, stupefyingly, is actually abating. Perhaps I’ve reached some sort of equilibrium with the considerable noise of my surroundings. Like in the episode of the Simpsons when Mr. Burns is told that he remains alive only because he has contracted every disease known to man. Any slight change in volume and I would crack. My health is in the hands of Anthony McCrossan and Pharrell Williams.
We finally see the bunch fly by Trinity College and Goldsmith hall. I can’t say for sure what’s going through each rider’s mind at that moment. But I’m going to go ahead and guarantee that none of them are thinking about Oscar Wilde or burying naggins.
We’re presented with the confusing scenario of not knowing where to look when the riders appear before us in real life. The better view to be had is on the big screen, but why have we bothered turning out if we’re not going to watch them in the flesh. I attempt to skew my eyeballs so I can look at both at once, but the pangs are back so I cop myself on and watch them for real as Marcel Kittel wins again, this time making up an improbable amount of places on his way to victory.
Three stages, a team time trial won by Orica-GreenEdge and two bunch sprint wins for the big German. I know the riders make the race to a certain extent, but I’m still leaden with a feeling that it was all just too predictable.
It’s five o’ clock now and my hangover seems to have disappeared completely. And two hours ago, nobody would have predicted that.
To win a Grand Tour at any stage in a career is a wonderful achievement. It is usually the culmination of years of hard work, commitment and sacrifice. Grand Tour winners are usually moulded and shaped by the experience of leading a team and winning smaller races over the course of a number of seasons. The rider’s team-mates must trust that their work will not be for nothing, that they can believe that their leader has what it takes to deliver.
Eventually, when the rider is physically and mentally mature enough and has earned the trust and respect of his team, he may be capable of tackling and conquering one of the sport’s three biggest races.
So to win a Grand Tour having never before won a stage race is highly unusual. But in May 2012, Ryder Hesjedal achieved just this.
The decision by Jonathan Vaughters and the rest of the Garmin team to elect and get behind Hesjedal as team leader for the 2012 Giro d’Italia and to back this belief up with the delivery of overall victory is remarkable.
In an interview in a recent issue of Cycle Sport magazine, Hesjedal spoke about a meeting he had with team management in November 2011 where they explicitly asked him to focus on winning the Giro the following year:
That’s all I could think about from a couple of days after that meeting until winning the race. I think that’s pretty bad-ass actually – I didn’t win the Giro by chance. I set out to; it was my goal in November. That’s pretty special in sport.
It was the first winter that I’d worked for goals coming up in the next season.
Hesjedal’s palmarés can testify to that, certainly in terms of stage racing. He had a list of solid but not spectacular results, the highlight of which was sixth place overall at the 2010 Tour de France. But having the ability to win the second biggest stage race in the world? On paper, Hesjedal was still lacking.
He had never before won a stage race, he had never before finished on the podium of a stage race and he had never before worn the leader’s jersey in a stage race. This is why the confidence that his Garmin-Sharp team placed in him last year was risky but exceptional. What is even more unusual is they placed this confidence in a rider who is certainly not ‘one for the future’.
The last rider before Hesjedal to win the Giro d’Italia having never before won a stage race was Franco Balmamion in 1962*. Balmamion defended his Giro crown the following year, and amazingly, these were his only two stage race victories in a career which spanned 12 years. He won both races without winning a stage and he remains the last Italian rider to win back to back editions of the Giro d’Italia. But when Balmamion won his first Giro crown 50 years ago he was 22 years old, Hesjedal won his when he was 31.
In the intervening years between the maiden victories of Balmamion and Hesjedal, of the other two Grand Tours, there have been 12 riders who have won either the Tour or the Vuelta having never before won a stage race. It has actually occurred three times in very recent times at the Tour with Carlos Sastre in 2008 and the two inherited wins of Andy Schleck and Oscar Pereiro. Prior to this at the Tour, there were also Frenchmen Lucien Aimar and Roger Pingeon in the mid-sixties.
Unsurprisingly, it is the Vuelta which has had the most stage race winning virgins take home the main prize including the likes of Roberto Heras, Marco Giovannetti and Alvaro Pino.
Two things are notable when comparing Ryder Hesjedal to the others who have achieved the same feat in the past 50 years. The first is that the Canadian is older than all of them were when they won their Grand Tour, apart from Ferdinand Bracke who was six months older when he won the 1971 Vuelta.
The second item of note is that every one of the other riders had competition for team leadership. For instance, Sastre was contending with the Schleck brothers at Team CSC in 2008. Andy Schleck himself was sharing leadership duties with brother Frank in 2010. Pereiro started the 2006 Tour at Movistar with Alejandro Valverde as leader. Giovannetti had Pino, Pino had Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Manuel Fuente had Miguel Maria Lasa.
It is perhaps unprecedented that a cyclist of Ryder Hesjedal’s age was trusted with sole leadership and the full backing of a team for a Grand Tour, having never before proven himself a winner in stage races, and paid back that trust with an overall win.
*Ivan Gotti did not win a professional stage race before his first Giro d’Italia victory in 1997. However he did win two editions of the Giro della Valle d’Aosta prior to this.
A stage win in the Tour de France can make a rider’s career. It will boost their salary, increase their marketability and make them a more wanted man. A stage win in the Tour de France achieved by a Frenchman is on another level again. When Thomas Voeckler or Pierre Rolland win a stage of the Tour, almost the entire edition of L’Équipe the following day is written in homage to their victory. A win in France, in the Tour de France, by a man from France is something very special indeed.
But the Tour de France hasn’t always been confined France itself. Just this year the great race got underway in Liége and as recently as 2010 it visited Belgium and Holland. If we include the principalities of Andorra and Monaco, the Tour de France has visited 11 different foreign lands in its history. This means that it is not just French riders who have the opportunity to ride, and possibly win, a stage of the Tour de France on home soil.
It is a traditional spectacle in cycling that when any race skirts the home region or passes through the home town of a rider in the peloton, that we see that rider attempt to make it in to the day’s breakaway. The rider wants to show himself in front of his own kin and provide his home support with a display of strength and showmanship.
When the Tour de France visits another country, the effect is the same, but it is an entire nationality of riders who yearn to be noticed and strive for success in their homeland.
The Tour de France began in Dublin in 1998 but it came too late for Ireland’s greatest cyclists to experience the world’s biggest race visiting their home country. Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly had both retired several years earlier and sadly there were to be no Irish riders at all in the race. Upon hearing the confirmation that Dublin had been awarded the Grand Départ, Kelly had this to say:
The Tour coming here is a marvellous boost for the sport and the industry. If anyone mentioned it a few years ago I would have laughed at the idea. However, my one regret is that there are no Irish riders competing at the top level now, so we will not have anyone taking part…It would have been great for it to come here when Stephen and I were competing, but that just didn’t happen.
Kelly’s sentiments were echoed by Roche:
It is wonderful news. But it is a little disappointing there will be no Irish competitors at the highest level. It’s a pity the Federation of Irish Cyclists did not build on the success Sean and I achieved but now you could say they have a second chance.
With no Irish riders in the Tour there was obviously no Irish stage winners in 1998. However, of the entire peloton, the rider born within the closest distance to Dublin won the prologue around the city centre – Chris Boardman.
The time trial specialist from the Wirral also won the prologue on his Tour debut in 1994, a year in which the Tour did visit Great Britain. Although Boardman won the stage and took the yellow jersey, and Sean Yates also wore yellow that year, neither rider won a stage on home soil. But over the years, there have been plenty of riders that have.
The most recent rider to achieve this distinction is Gert Steegmans who won Stage Two of the 2007 edition when he usurped Tom Boonen, who he was tasked with leading out, to take the bunch sprint in Ghent.
In total, there have been 27 riders who have won a stage of the Tour de France on home soil outside of France. Of those 27, there are 14 Belgians, five Italians, three Swiss, three Spanish and two Dutchmen. There are some big names on the list – Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Rik van Looy, Joop Zoetemelk. And there are some lesser known names too – Jose Nazabel Mimendia, Bernard van de Kerckhoeve and Walter Diggelmann.
There are also four riders who have achieved this feat twice – Coppi (Aoste 1949, Sestriéres 1952), Van Looy (Jambes 1963, Liége 1965), Jan Raas (Leiden 1978, St. Willibrord 1978) and Freddy Maertens (Hasselt 1981, Brussels 1981).
It is also something which has been achieved by two brothers with Walter (Brussels 1978) and Eddy (Zolder 1981) making Mrs. Planckaert a very proud woman.
But perhaps the most interesting rider on the list is the one who got there first. Leo Amberg from Switzerland won Stage 5C of the 1937 Tour de France ahead of his compatriot Robert Zimmermann (no, not Bob Dylan) in a solo breakaway into Geneva.
As if winning a stage of the Tour de France in his home country of Switzerland wasn’t enough, Amberg repeated the trick in the Giro d’Italia the following year. Stage 18a of the 1938 Giro was exactly 100km raced from Varese to Locarno where Amberg again crossed the line solo, this time almost 10 minutes clear of everyone else.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Amberg won both of these Grand Tour stages on home Swiss soil while wearing the national champion’s jersey, having won the title in both 1937 and 1938.
Amberg can be forgiven for not completing an unprecedented hat-trick as the Vuelta a Espana, after two false starts interrupted by war, only really got going in 1945 at which point his career was winding down (although Amberg did find time to win a team time trial at the 1947 Tour of Romandie with team-mates Hugo Koblet and Walter Diggelmann – the only three Swiss riders who have won stages of the Tour de France in Switzerland).
In the proceeding years, the Vuelta, by far the most conservative of the three Grand Tours when it comes to crossing borders, has never entered into Switzerland anyway. However, Amberg did ride the Vuelta once in 1935, the first ever edition of the race, where he finished 13th overall and came third in the mountains competition. Amberg is also notable for being the first Swiss rider (and third rider ever) to complete all three of cycling’s Grand Tours.
Which rider won the Tour de France in a year in which he did not even take part in the race?
The answer, unsurprisingly, involves a disqualification and a subsequent default winner. The answer is also going through the worst year in his career thus far as a cyclist. The answer is Andy Schleck.
Earlier this year, Alberto Contador was banned and stripped of several victories including the 2010 Tour de France in which Schleck finished second. As such, in May of this year, Schleck was officially awarded the yellow jersey as winner of the 2010 Tour. So far this has been his only victory this year.
Schleck hasn’t finished in the top 20 of any race (or on any stage of any race) in 2012. A crash in the time trial of the Criterium du Dauphine in June has meant he hasn’t raced since. Initially, the injury was not thought to be too serious as the Luxembourger continued in the week long race. But eventually the pain became too much and he abandoned two days later.
It soon became apparent that he had a fracture in his sacrum which was causing major spinal problems. Schleck was forced to withdraw from participating in this year’s Tour de France and instead turned his focus to regaining full fitness for the Vuelta.
But race after race has gone by where Schleck has not been sufficiently recovered from his injuries to take to the startline. He was named as part of the Luxembourg Olympic team but officially withdrew before the games began. He was on the provisional startlist for the upcoming Vuelta a Espana but will now not be present this weekend. And his latest disappointment will be chalking the US Pro Cycling Challenge off his racing calendar as he is still suffering from back pain due to the injuries suffered in that Dauphiné time trial.
Dealing with an injury which has been so devastating to his racing plans would be mentally draining at any stage in Schleck’s career, but his problems have been compounded by his brother Frank testing positive for a banned diuretic during the Tour which meant a bad year immediately got unimaginably worse. The upheavel and general mismanagement of his Radioshack-Nissan team has also been a source of strife and negativity for Schleck this season.
The fact that Andy Schleck will not ride the Vuelta means that he won’t have ridden any Grand Tour this year. In the past 50 years, this has only happened to a former Tour winner on four occasions.
The most recent Tour winner to miss out on riding a Grand Tour all year was Jan Ullrich in 2002. He tested positive for an amphetamine before the Tour, was fired by his team and was banned for six months. Before Ullrich, in 1988 Stephen Roche had one of the worst years ever experienced by the reigning world champion as he missed most of the season due to a knee injury. Prior to that, in the wake of his maiden Tour victory in 1986, Greg LeMond was shot in a hunting accident and almost died. And finally, double Tour winner Laurent Fignon failed to start a Grand Tour in 1985 as, similarly to Roche, he suffered from a bad knee injury.
The whole last two years has been hard because they say everything about me without any limit. Luckily, I have my family and my friends. Thanks to them I did not need to seek help from any professional. They are the ones who have given me encouragement.
It is true that in some ways the illusion that I had eight years ago is gone. It has made me grow up and see cycling as a part of my life, but not my whole life. I have faced difficult situations which will help deal with stressful situations in the future.
Those six months have been difficult and I’ll remember them forever.
While dealing with a ban for doping is rather different than dealing with a debilitating injury, both situations provide mental and physical challenges and to overcome them require a steady support structure and a steely determination. The Schlecks, who clearly rely on each other emotionally and tactically, are now faced with both nightmare scenarios.
LeMond returned from his near death experience and won two more Tours de France and another rainbow jersey. Fignon returned and won Milan San Remo twice and the Giro d’Italia. Jan Ullrich reappeared at the Tour in 2003 and came closer than anyone ever did to beating Lance Armstrong.
On the other end of the scale however, Roche was never the same after his horrific year in 1988. He won races upon his return, including a Tour stage in 1992, but would never again challenge for the overall victory in the major races.
It remains to be seen how well Andy Schleck will cope upon returning from his own annus horriblis. He has been criticised constantly over the years for his meek racing style and a lack of conviction that riders like Contador have no shortage of.
The double setback of his spinal injury and his brother’s positive test will stretch Schleck’s resolve further than any Grand Tour ever could. Depending on how he deals with this stress and all of the forthcoming challenges will shape the rider we will see return in the coming months and years
One thing should not be forgotten, Andy Schleck is a bloody good bike rider. He’s finished on the podium of the biggest race in the world three times and he has won Liége-Bastogne-Liége in imperious fashion. If Schleck can recover from these setbacks, next year he will have a point to prove and he will most certainly not want to be remembered simply as the guy who won the Tour in the year he didn’t even ride it.
The biggest stage races in the sport of cycling are the Grand Tours. Consisting of three weeks of racing, the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana are each more than twice as long as the next longest stage race at the top level of the sport. To win one of these races is the pinnacle of any cyclist’s career.
Only five riders have ever won all three of these races. They are Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador. No rider has ever won all three in the same year. In fact, it is relatively rare to even complete all three in the same year.
Riders who are capable of winning multiple Grand Tours are clearly among the pantheon of cycling greats and some of the best cyclists the sport has ever seen. But within each Grand Tour lies the opportunity for riders to win a stage.
For most riders, winning a Grand Tour is an impossiblity, but similarly, for most riders, winning a stage of a Grand Tour is a very real dream and something most professional cyclists are capable of and aim towards. Winning a stage of one of these races can make an entire career.
As such, there are plenty of riders who fall into the category of riders who have won stages of all three Grand Tours in their career. In fact, there are 82 of them. Joaquim Rodriguez was the latest to join the club after he won Stage 17 of this year’s Giro.
So who was the first the manage this achievement?
The first year that this feat became possible was in 1935 when the Vuelta joined both the Giro and the Tour on the cycling calendar. Although the Tour de France was much more of an international affair, in early years both the Giro and the Vuelta very much remained races for Italian and Spanish riders respectively. Thus, in the 1930s and 1940s it was rare for riders to even ride two different Grand Tours in their careers, not to mention three. Of course, the interruption of war along with the problems of travel in the aftermath of war did not help matters throughout this period.
It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that the hat-trick was finally achieved and there followed a flurry of completed Grand Tour stage winning hat-tricks in the proceeding years.
The honour of being the first rider to win a stage in each of cycling’s Grand Tours goes to the Italian, Fiorenzo Magni. He had already won stages in three separate editions of the Giro d’Italia (winning two overall) and won stages in five separate editions of the Tour. He probably would have won the Tour in 1950 had he not been forced to abandon due to Gino Bartali’s gripe with the French crowd.
But Magni was still missing a stage win in the Vuelta, a race he had not even entered before 1955. But in a 29km time trial around Barcelona that year, Magni beat Mario Baroni by a single second to seal the hat-trick and be the first of the 82 riders to do so. Magni went on to win another stage of the Vuelta that year and followed that up with his third and final victory in the Giro d’Italia.
During Magni’s final Giro win later on in 1955, the second Grand Tour stage winning treble was completed by Bernardo Ruiz, just 22 days after Magni had completed the first. The floodgates had opened and more and more riders began to actually compete in all three races throughout their careers. The following year in 1956, the feat was achieved four times, by Rik van Steenbergen, Miguel Poblet, Hugo Koblet and Nino Defilippis, the first three of which all rounded off the treble at the same race, the 1956 Vuelta.
In 1956, after Poblet’s three stage wins in the Vuelta, he went on to win four stages of the Giro and then won Stage 8 of the Tour into La Rochelle to become the first rider to win a stage of all three Grand Tours in the same year. Amazingly, the next rider to complete the hat-trick, also did so in the same year, that was Pierino Baffi in 1958. The only rider since to have emulated the feat of Poblet and Baffi is Alessandro Petacchi who repeated the trick in 2003.
Also worth mentioning, is that Baffi’s son Adriano almost emulated his father in taking a career hat-trick. Baffi junior rode for prominent teams such as US Postal and Mapei-QuickStep before retiring in 2002. He won five stages of the Giro throughout those years as well as one stage of the Vuelta in 1995. He narrowly missed out on all three when he was pipped to the line by Johan Museeuw on the final stage of the 1990 Tour de France on the Champs Elysées.
There is one Irish cyclist on the list but perhaps surprisingly it is neither Sean Kelly or Stephen Roche. Kelly won many stages of both the Vuelta and the Tour but only rode the Giro once, towards the end of his career in 1992. Kelly did not feature prominently in the race at all before abandoning after Stage 15.
It is a similar story for Stephen Roche, who having won stages of both the Giro and the Tour, only rode the Vuelta once, again towards the end of his career and again in 1992. The best Roche could manage was sixth place on a couple of stages on his way to a 14th place overall.
The only Irish rider to have won a stage of all three Grand Tours is Seamus Elliott. The first Irish cyclist to make it on the European scene had won a stage of the Giro in 1960 and two stages of the Vuelta, one each in 1962 and 1963. He sealed his own hat-trick on the cobbled roads of Roubaix in the Tour de France of 1963.
With over 80 riders having achieved this feat, it is to be expected that there are a couple of riders who have done it only to be retroactively stripped of victories. The number would stand at 84 if it were not for Alberto Contador losing his stage wins in the 2011 Giro (he won the 2008 Giro without winning a stage), and Leonardo Piepoli who was stripped of his only Tour de France stage win in 2008.
There are of course all the names you would expect amongst the 82 riders: Merckx, Hinault, Anquetil, Van Looy, Van Impe, Jalabert, Ullrich, Cavendish, Cipollini, Gilbert are all present on the list. But there are a host of lesser known riders who are eprhaps less familiar: Sergei Utchakov, Ercole Gualazzini, Ward Sels, Guido Carlesi and Vicente Lopez Carril.
This year’s Tour de France is fast approaching and therein provides 21 opportunities for a number of riders to complete the hat-trick. There are seven active riders who have won a stage of both the Giro and the Vuelta but are still waiting for the big one in the Tour de France. Two of these riders, although still active, ride for teams who will not be present at the Tour: Danilo Di Luca and Robert Forster.
This leaves five riders who, if selected for the Tour, have a chance of joining the existing 82 rider list: Francisco Ventoso, Igor Anton, Mikel Nieve, Leonardo Bertagnolli and Damiano Cunego.
A special mention must also go to Wouter Weylandt, who having won a stage of the Giro and the Vuelta was robbed of his chance of completing the hat-trick when he was tragically killed on the third stage of the 2011 Giro aged just 26.
*Victories as part of a team time trial have not been included. Only individual stage wins in road stages or individual time trials have been included.
The 2012 Giro d’Italia isn’t a week old yet and Mark Cavendish has, perhaps unsurprisingly, already won two stages. But his first Grand Tour stage wins of the year are even more distinguished than usual, because he has taken these victories while clad in the rainbow jersey of world champion.
As tiny nuggets in the annals of cycling history go, winning a stage of the Giro d’Italia as world champion actually isn’t that uncommon. Cavendish’s wins means this is actually the 22nd year in which this has occurred. As it’s only been possible in 79 different years, it’s better than a one in four chance that any given world champion will win a stage of the Giro.
The last rider to do so before Cavendish was Cadel Evans as recently as 2010 in that famous mud-strewn stage over the white roads of Tuscany to Montalcino. Evans crossed the line caked in pale brown slime, but had his wits about him enough to wipe his rainbow jersey slightly before puffing a big sigh of relief as he crossed the line.
The last rider to win multiple stages of the Giro as world champion, as Cavendish has now done, was Mario Cipollini in 2003. It was also the year where he famously equalled and broke Alfredo Binda’s record of 41 stage wins in the Giro d’Italia. It was the 13th year that Cipo had started the Giro, and it was the 13th time that he had won at least one stage, but his record-breaking 42nd win was to be his last.
Regardless of whether he completes the three week race this year, Cavendish is likely to win more stages, but he will find it near impossible to break the record of the most Giro stage wins as world champion. This record is shared between two riders and stands at a massive seven stage wins.
The most recent rider to have won seven Giro stages while in the rainbow jersey is the Belgian Freddy Maertens who did so in 1977. Even more remarkably he did so within the first eight days of racing (which included a couple of split stages). He abandoned during Stage 10.
The other rider to have achieved this feat went one better. In 1928, having become the first ever road world champion in Germany the previous year, Alfredo Binda won seven stages of the Giro and won the race overall. Binda is one of three riders along with Eddy Merckx (1968, 1972) and Giuseppe Saronni (1983) who has won the Giro d’Italia as world champion. Binda, like Merckx, also did so twice, achieveing this rare feat for the second time when he won the Giro for the fifth and final time in 1933.
The following is a breakdown of the world champions who have won stages of the Giro d’Italia: